Like many expats living in Rome, I have a complicated relationship with this city. For every evening meal of a sublime pizza or plate of pasta, there’s a harrowing commute to work the following morning full of train delays and bumper-to-bumper traffic. For every stroll down a picturesque street in the historic center, there’s an equally jarring walk to the bus stop, on pockmarked sidewalks with pooling rainwater and dog droppings aimlessly scattered along the way.
Some days I love Rome, some days I hate Rome. But at the end of the day, it’s the city I’m living in, and I’ve come to accept—or at least be resigned—to all of its joys and frustrations.
It hasn’t always been this way. Over the course of my 5+ months here, I’ve gone through a number of phases, particularly in my relationship with the public transportation system. The more I contemplate it, this mental journey perfectly mirrors a paradigm I first learned about in health class sophomore year of high school: Dr. Kubler Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief. When confronted with a particularly traumatic situation (e.g. terminal illness), Dr. Kubler Ross posited back in 1969, humans progress through five emotional stages: Denial, followed by anger, bargaining, depression, and—finally—acceptance.
It may be a bit melodramatic of a comparison, but allow me to explain.
Rome’ s history, food, and charming buildings and monuments are stunning to the uninitiated visitor. When I first arrived, I was awed by the whole experience—the beauty and novelty of practically every building, every street, every church I beheld. For the first time in my life, too, I was living in a major global city (sorry, Dallas!) and fully reliant on a public transit system complete with a network of buses, trains, subways and trams (think street cars).
Every day after work and on the weekends, I could explore the city, and for the most part, the transit system could take me where I wanted to go. Back in August, the weather was sunny and beautiful and the sights were so historic and significant that, through my rose colored glasses, I didn’t pay much attention to the persistently delayed buses or ones that just never showed up.
As summer turned into fall, it all began to change. The romance began to fade, and things started to get under my skin: The delayed bus that got me home too late to get to the grocery store before its 8pm closing time. The cancelled Metro (because of a strike) that stranded me for an hour at 11pm on a Thursday night. The pushy way that, at every stop, no one would wait for the passengers to get off before boarding themselves. Call it impatience, call it unreasonable expectations, call it cultural insensitivity—I had about had it with the city.
Clever me, I thought I might have found a way around these troubles, at least on my way to work. WFP is located in a business park along the train line to the airport, about a 20 minute drive from the historic center. To get there from my apartment, I had been taking the Metro for three stops and then a WFP shuttle bus direct to our office. In total, when things worked as they should, the whole process took about 40 minutes door to door (15 minute walk to the Metro, 10 minute Metro ride, 15 minutes on the bus).
For some reason though, by mid-October, that 40 minutes turned into 60 or, on particularly bad days, 75. The Metro part of it still worked great, but the shuttle bus to WFP was where it fell apart. Out of nowhere, daily morning traffic on the route to WFP went from light to heavy. The consistent congestion not only increased bus travel time but also compounded to make the shuttle buses arrive at the Metro stop erratically and often very late.
I was frustrated and had enough. But lucky for me, I had another option: the train. About a 20 minute walk from my apartment was a station where I could board the regional train to Muratella, a short 8 minute walk to my office. So with the 15 minute train ride, it would be roughly 45 minutes door to door. I had found the solution, and car traffic couldn’t get in the way!
It worked great…for a few days. Until the trains, which run every 15 minutes, were cancelled for no reason. Then two trains worth of morning commuters crammed onto one train—if you were lucky to make it on board. Or it would rain, and then all trains would be delayed half hour (yes, rain means that the trains don’t function properly).
I tried, and failed, to bargain my way out of a difficult morning commute. Bus or train, I could not avoid pitfalls along the way. The only way to guarantee an on time arrival at work would be to (gasp) leave earlier!
I’ll admit that this one’s a bit of a stretch…
Here I am, five months in, and I’ve learned, as best I can, to live like a Roman. Sometimes the bus doesn’t run on time. Sometimes, like this past Friday, the trains almost completely shut down because it rains.
A screen shot of the Trenitalia train status website from Friday morning. Persistent rain sent the system haywire
It’s frustrating, but I’ve learned to live with it. Each morning, you will find me on the bus or the train (I still haven’t decided which one is faster…), shoving my way aboard like the other Romans, usually arriving to work later than planned.
If you can’t beat them, join them.